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Leon Bewersdorff

Staff Scientist

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Leon is a computer science student at RWTH Aachen University and amateur astronomer with an observatory in Germany. His research includes variable star and exoplanet photometry, precision astrometry, and stellar multiplicity. Recent work includes characterization of exoplanet WASP-50b and development of astrometric methodology for detection of binary objects.  

Scott Dixon

Staff Scientist

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Scott has an extensive background in aerospace that is relevant to astronomy with small telescopes.  In 13 years of college, he attended three universities and earned a PhD in Computers Information and Control Engineering from the University of Michigan.  His focus in this program was on optimal control of dynamical systems.  He then was employed by Rockwell International developing satellites with Electro-Optical (EO) sensors.  On a DARPA program he managed focal plane development for an IR sensor concept with 25-meter aperture in geostationary orbit to detect dim targets.  For the next 32 years Scott worked for Photon Research Associates (PRA) in San Diego CA.  PRA specialized in analyzing and modeling EO sensors and the generation and transport of the photons they detect. Scott was a member of the PRA board of directors.  For NASA Goddard Scott's group developed simulations of the Next Generation Space Telescope now known as the James Webb Space Telescope.  


His first hands on experience with astronomy at PRA was on a government sponsored project to show how well amateur astronomers could use an LN2 cooled IR sensor to track satellites in orbit.  The group he managed constructed and deployed a system to do this. That project sparked his interest in astronomy.  In 2006 he joined the San Diego Astronomy Association (SDAA).   He participates in numerous SDAA outreach and educational activities. He was a member of SDAA board of directors and currently leads the SDAA Astro Imaging Special Interest Group.  Science with small telescopes soon became his primary focus. With the BRIEF organization he imaged the 2017 solar eclipse as part of the Citizen CATE project. Since its launch Scott has been a member of the TESS satellite SubGroup1 which performs seeing limited ground telescope observations to confirm TESS exoplanet candidates.  Scott also supports the JPL Exoplanet Watch program to maintain exoplanet ephemerides with amateur observations.  He has done many exoplanet observations from different observatories and has constructed observatories in his back yard and at the SDAA remote site.  He enthusiastically supports motivating new astronomers with interesting research projects.

Michael-James Ellis

Staff Scientist


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Michael is a science teacher at Payson High School, located in Payson, Arizona. He has always been fascinated by physics and astronomy and has been teaching in Payson since 2010. Over the years, Michael has taught various science courses, including AP Physics, Physics, Physical Science, and online science classes. From 2013 to 2016, he also taught engineering, and from 2013 to 2020, he mentored and coached the district's first-ever FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics team. In recognition of his efforts, Michael was awarded the FIRST Robotics Arizona Regional Teacher of the Year award in 2017.

Michael has a C.P. in Photography, an A.A.S. in General Technology from Mohave Community College, and a B.S.Ed. in Physics from the College of Engineering, Forestry, and Natural Sciences at Northern Arizona University. 

Reed Estrada

Staff Scientist


Former B-52 pilot, current Northrop Test Pilot working at Edwards Air Force Base, CA. Treasurer for the Institute for Student Astronomical Research. MBA in Airline Management, MS in Engineering, BS in microbiology, as well as several other Engineering and Aviation degrees.  Worked with telescopes and amateur astronomy for 30 years including many projects with and Russ Genet and the Fairborn Institute.

Rachel Freed

Staff Scientist

Director of Education

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Rachel Freed is a co-founder and the President of the Institute for Student Astronomical Research with a goal of incorporating scientific research into high school and undergraduate education. She is currently working on a Ph.D. in astronomy education. She is also a faculty lecturer in the School of Education at Sonoma State University, with a B.S. degree in Biology and an M.S. in Neuroscience. Rachel taught high school chemistry and astronomy for 10 years and has conducted research on chemistry education. She has been an amateur astronomer for over 20 years and is involved in public outreach. She has been a volunteer docent at the Robert Ferguson Observatory in Sonoma County for 13 years. She is also the editor of the Journal of Double Star Observations and on the board of the Advanced Imaging Conference. Rachel’s work focuses on promoting changes in education that build on students’ intrinsic motivations and interests.

Russ Genet

Staff Scientist



Russ is the Co Director of the Fairborn Institute and a Research Scholar in Residence at California Polytechnic State University. He developed rocket guidance systems in the early days of the space age. An instrument-rated commercial pilot and instructor, he pioneered the development of networked flight simulators for training fighter pilots. Russ pioneered the development of robotic telescopes and automated observatories in the 1980s. He initiated the Astronomy Research Seminars in 2001 which, to date, have produced over 200 published papers coauthored primarily by high school and undergraduate students. The Fairborn Institute’s robotic telescope is used almost nightly by remotely located students for their published research. Russ’ research on cosmic evolution—the synthesis of physical, biological, and cultural evolution—was summarized in his 2007 book, Humanity: The Chimpanzees Who Would Be Ants. Russ lives in the Arizona mountains with his wife, Cheryl, who teaches philosophy and world religions. Russ has a BS degree in Electrical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Astronomy.

Daniel (Dan) Gray

Telescope Engineer

Staff Scientist

President Sidereal Technology


Early 1980's:
Stepper control of routers using Z80 microprocessor and component level by polar stepper drivers

Early 90's:
Micro Stepper control of telescopes, with goto and tracking

1987 to present (founding partner and owner of Technical Marine Service Inc)
Involved in Industrial controls including component scale electronics, industrial computers and controllers, PID controls, etc

Created our (still for sale) Servo I controller, and founded Sidereal Technology

2005 to present
Created the ServoII, ForceOne and ForceTwo telescope controllers
Created and continuing to develop software for controlling telescope mounts, focusers, rotators, cameras etc.
Porting software for use with Linux versions, etc.
Installation of telescope control systems on professional telescopes around the world

Richard Harshaw

Educational Advisor


    Richard holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Education (Mathematics/Physics) from Central Missouri State University where he graduated in 1973.  
    Born and raised in Missouri, he now resides in Cave Creek, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix).
   His exploits in astronomy began 60 years ago when he purchased a second-hand 60mm alt-azimuth refractor from a friend.  Over the years, he worked his way up to a 4.5” reflector, then an 8-inch SCT, and his present scope, an 11-inch SCT.  His main interest is speckle interferometry of close double stars.  But he is also an avid galaxy hunter and enjoys star clusters and planetary nebulae.  
   He has had several articles on double stars published in journals and has a book published by Springer Publishing, the Complete CD Guide To The Universe, released late in 2006.  He has also contributed about 6,000 measurements of double stars to the Washington Double Star Catalog (his observer code is HSW).  He is presently working on speckle interferometry on extremely close binaries, having done observing runs at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, AZ, The Discovery Telescope in Happy Jack, AZ, the 100-inch Hooker Telescope at Mt. Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles, and other observatories.
   Richard was an active member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City for many years and served three terms on the Board of Directors. He was a key holder for the Society’s 30-inch Ruisinger Reflector in Louisburg, KS, and frequently presented pro-grams at Powell, public events, and the general meetings.
   In Phoenix, Arizona, he joined the Saguaro Astronomy Club and served two years as its president and the newsletter editor and Secretary.
   Asteroid 2000 EF116 was named for him (26586 Harshaw) by the Catalina Sky Survey team.
   From his backyard (Montevista Observatory), he frequently observes double stars (over 26,000 now logged) and brighter deep-sky objects under reasonably dark suburban skies.

Amber Mistry


Staff Scientist


Amber Mistry is someone who loves to see and learn things from different perspectives, regardless if she's looking far out into the universe or whats at her feet. Amber is a current senior at Oxbridge Academy. She will be joining Georgia Tech’s Class of ’25 and is looking to major in mechanical engineering. Her current research experience includes double stars and RR Lyrae. Amber also has experience in computer science with multiple languages. In her free time, she loves playing or watching soccer (football), learning random facts, and earning the title of a foodie. 

Current Publication:

Sophia Risin


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Sophia Risin is a student at Stanford Online High School and interested in trying to understand the universe from both a philosophical and astrophysical perspective. Her current research experience includes exoplanets, double stars, and photocenter astrometry. She also serves as the logistics director for the STEAMpark teen board and tutors students locally. She is a National Center for Women and Information Technology certificate of distinction winner and  In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends, going on walks with her dogs, and learning new things.

Current publications: 

David Rowe

Chief Technical Officer

Staff Scientist

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David Rowe studied physics and mathematics in college, with emphasis on astronomical research. He started an electronics research company, SMI, in 1989 with two partners, where he was the Chief Technology Officer and Chief Engineer. The company developed integrated circuits for GPS, fiber optics, microwave radios and radars. David then joined Planewave Instruments where he is currently their CTO and optical systems designer. He is the author of TraceXP, PlateSolve, PointXP, Speckle Tool Box, GDS and other software programs for optical testing and image data reduction. His current interests include precision astrometry and high etendue optical systems.

Thomas C. Smith


Staff Scientist


Thomas C. Smith joined the US Navy in 1974 and entered the Enlisted Nuclear Power Program as a Machinist Mate. He served 13 years on two different types of nuclear submarines and taught operational nuclear prototypes to students and senior staff instructors, being awarded Master Training Specialist. Leaving the Navy in 1987 as a Chief Machinist Mate he began work at Diablo Canyon Power Plant near San Luis Obispo, California retiring after 20 years having worked 10 years as a Maintenance Foreman and 10 years in the Information Technology Department as a Senior Computer Applications Programmer.

He writes: I have been keen on astronomy since seeing a comet with my father in the mid-60’s from Albuquerque, NM. My love for astronomy was reignited in 1989 following naval service when I joined the Central Coast Astronomical Society (CCAS) in San Luis Obispo, California. I began scientific research of eclipsing binary stars in 2003. I built my first observatory in 2004 and almost immediately began making astronomy observations and presentations to schools, senior’s organizations, the public, and the astronomy club along with writing astronomical papers and giving presentations at astronomy conferences such as the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and Society for Astronomical Sciences (SAS). I have been a member of the ASP for a short time, a member of SAS since 2005, and a member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) since 2007. I was voted an honorary member of the Texas Astronomical Society (TAS). I have provided guidance to many University, Junior College, and High School students in observing techniques, astronomical software, research equipment fabrication, data reductions and analysis for presentations and publication in such as the Journal of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (JAAVSO), SAS proceedings, Journal of Double Star Observations (JDSO) and others. I built, installed and operate the American Association of Variable Star Observers Photometric All-Sky Survey (APASS) systems with Dr. Arne Henden (Director, AAVSO) at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) as well as a duplicate system at my Dark Ridge Observatory in New Mexico. The APASS photometric data have been included in the US Naval Observatory’s UCAC4 catalog. I assisted Chandra X-ray Space Telescope E/PO as an Educational Resource Agent working with Tufts University. 

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